As Seen in… the United Kingdom By Jim Barrett

In May, GPN's consulting editor Jim Barrett spent a week in the London area touring nurseries and garden centers to gain insight into the nuances between the United States and United Kingdom markets.

To view photos from Jim’s trip to the UK, click on the PDF link below.

The British are known for their classical gardens and old Victorian greenhouses that contain amazing old and important plant collections. Beyond that the British just like to garden and to visit garden centers. As one gentleman told me: "When I need to buy a birthday card for my wife, I go to a garden center" because it is a nice place to be.

In May, I spent a week in the London area touring gardens and nurseries (and a few pubs) with a group of University of Florida students and faculty. The folks at Ball Colegrave were nice enough to host our group and set up the commercial visits. Spring in the United Kingdom this year was early. Demand at garden centers has been very strong and things were busy. At all of our retail stops, retailers were apologizing for the way things "looked" because they were not able to keep the displays restocked.

In many ways, the U.K. garden centers looked like ours in the United States and carried a similar line of products. However, there were some key differences that I will attempt to illustrate here.

First, the general economic situation has not hit U.K. garden center business the way it has in the United States. For example, tree and shrub sales in England have remained strong. There are probably three main reasons. First, garden center business in the United Kingdom has not been tied as closely to growth in a housing market. Second, the British gardener is probably a more serious gardener and gardening is more important to their lifestyle. Third is the fact that U.K. garden centers have generally succeeded in becoming destinations. They are clearly differentiated from the mass-market discount stores.

Everyone we talked to, whether in wholesale or retail, made the same point that their business success was all about service to the customer and giving the customer a good experience. The accompanying pictures illustrate some of the things being done in the United Kingdom to attract and excite customers.

Jim Barrett

Jim Barrett is GPN's consulting editor and a professor at the University of Florida. He can be reached at

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